Visiting with family in Connecticut, my wife’s sister came over to her parents, where we were staying, with her two boys, their ages corresponding with my boys but off a year so that our two pairs of boys make a successive four year sweep. They all get along well and my in-laws yard is full of adventure and excitement. My father-in-law, a general contractor, has sheds and gardens and tractors, things that mostly excite young boys, especially during summer when the world seems completely “open for business” for boys their age.
As I was lying on the bed, enjoying some time with no responsibility to catch up on the reading I haven’t done in forever, I began to hear a scream, nothing too unusual given the excitement that emerges when these four play together. My parental instinct was to first, determine whether it was a cry of pain and hurt and second, to determine whether that cry was emanating from one of my own children.
Once I realized it wasn’t my child (I breathed a short sigh of relief) and followed the sound to see what had happened. Turns out that my nephew had come across a bee that was none too happy with him. Whether he had stepped on its nest or had just thrown the insect off course from its usual business, it decided to repay him with a sting……and my nephew made it known what had happened.
As I walked into the den where the wounded child was being cared for by his mother, I was struck by the poor kid’s words. He kept saying, “Why?” over and over again. “Why did it sting me? I didn’t do anything to bother it.” My heart went out to my nephew and I began to think long and hard about those words and how often I had uttered them, or at least thought them, to myself.
In fact, I think I’ve done my best to avoid those words over the last few years. I’ve been faced with all kinds of things and my natural instinct is to curl up and cry, like my nephew, decrying against the injustice that’s taken place, proclaiming my own innocence in the midst of circumstances that seem to indicate my own guilt. Why? Why did this happen?
I’ve spent the better part of my adult life trying to allow for my theology to become more reformed (and transformed) from the distorted theology of my childhood. Maybe I had read too many Old Testament stories that had shaped my theology without enough grace. Maybe I had heard one too many sermons that had pointed me towards blaming someone for difficulties and tragedies that would occur. Regardless of its genesis, I had formed some theology in my mind which equated tragedies, trials, and difficulties with something that I had done. After all, bad things don’t just happen to good people, do they?
Ahhh, but yes they do. And if we allow ourselves to go there, we ask ourselves, “Why?” We want to know, like my nephew did, what had been done to deserve it. And the reason that I’ve done my best to avoid that question over the years is because we will always find a reason why we DON’T deserve it. We will always find ourselves innocent of anything worthy of such punishment. We will always wonder why us and not somebody else.
I so badly wanted to grab my nephew and tell him to get used to struggling with the injustice of it. The cynic in me would probably tell him to thank me at a later date, regardless of how I might have warped his theology and viewpoint. But I let him continue to cry and ask his mom why it had happened. He’ll come to it on his own one day, my cynicism need not encroach on his own formation.
But it was a reminder to me that, “Why?” isn’t always a good question to ask. More often than not, I’ve tried to shift the question from “Why” to “What.” What will be different from this? What can I learn? What can I make out of this injustice or trial or tragedy? More to the point, what can God make out of it?
When you do a funeral for a six month old who should have lived long past his parents, trite, comfortable, rehearsed answers seldom work the way that one might hope. When you are faced with a diagnosis that seems bleak and impossible, those same answers are likely to evoke bitterness and rage. When you survey the landscape of your life to find multiple tragedies coming on the heels of each other, trite answers will not suffice. In fact, answers, even well thought out ones, rarely assuage.
I don’t know……
Those three words have been among the most important ones that I have had to learn. They aren’t words that are easily acceptable or desirable, but they’re the only ones that can really bring any closure to the search.
Life brings with it bee stings and pains that cut deeper, physically and emotionally. What questions are you asking when you’re faced with those pains? I hope to understand more one day, but until then, my search can come up short. Faith upholds and strengthens, but it doesn’t always give adequate answers. God knows, and I know that, but sometimes, I just want to know too. I’m hoping that there will be a day when I will, but until then, I’ll just keep pressing on.